The The 25th amendment to the US Constitution deals with the authority of the president in the event of death or impeachment and was ratified in 1967 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
What does the 25th amendment say?
It consists of four sections, all of which deal with the President leaving office during his elected term.
The first section says that if the president dies, or resigns or is removed, the vice president will take over the oval office, which was not clearly stated in the original constitution.
Presidents can of course be removed from office, a feature of the constitution from the start. They can also be removed by the 25th amendment – of which below.
Section II states that both the House and Senate must approve a new Vice President if the Vice President dies, or resigns, or is dismissed. Until 1967, the presidents could change vice-presidents themselves in the medium term if they asked the vice-president to resign – not something that actually happened, but was possible in principle.
Section III clarifies that a president can temporarily delegate his or her powers to the vice-president and later reclaim them when he or she is able to serve. This is most commonly invoked when a president is under the influence of a surgical anesthetic for a short period of time.
Section IV is the most controversial part of the amendment: it describes how the President can be removed from office if he is incapacitated and does not leave alone.
The vice president and "a majority of officers in the executive departments or any other body that Congress may provide" must write to both presidents per tempo of the Senate and the President of the House, saying, "The President is unable to perform the powers and duties of his office."
The term chief officers of the executive departments would normally mean the cabinet secretaries.
At least eight of the President's 15 highest cabinet members must therefore agree with the Vice-President that a President should be removed before a plan can be implemented.
Notification of the President of Parliament and the President of the Senate per tempo is the act that immediately elevates the Vice President to the role of "Acting President".
The deposed president can contest the claim and give the leaders of the bloodless coup four days to re-assert their claims against the House and Senate.
Congress then has two days to convene – if it is not already in session – and another 21 days to vote on whether the president is unable to serve. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required for this decision.
As soon as a two-thirds majority vote takes place, the President loses his powers and is removed. The vice president ceases to act and is sworn in as president.
However, if 21 days of debate and voting end without a two-thirds majority, the president regains his powers.
What could happen to trigger the 25th Amendment?
Vice President Mike Pence and eight of the 15 "key" cabinet members would have to agree to tell Congress that President Donald Trump is unable to run the country.
This group consists of the Foreign Secretary, Treasury Secretary, Defense Minister, Attorney General, Home Secretary, Agriculture Minister, Trade Minister, Labor Minister, Secretary for Health and Human Services, Transport Minister, Energy Minister, Education Minister, and Veterans Affairs Secretary and Homeland Security Minister .
Your formal notification would go to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and in the Senate to the "President pro Tempore", the highest member of the Senate. Once the letter is mailed, Pence becomes the "acting president".
Alternatively, Congress could set up its own mechanism to decide whether it is fit for office – possibly a commission or a joint committee. Pence would still have to agree with his conclusion and then formally write pro tempore to the spokesman and president.
Or another possibility is that the pool of "chief officers" is seen as larger than 15 and a majority of that group is calling Trump incompetent.
What if Trump disagrees?
If Trump claims he can hold office, he would write to the House Speaker and President of the Senate within four days and launch an intense three-week debate in both Houses of Congress.
Trump would be removed from office if both two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate were to agree with Pence and his cabal.
If either chamber failed to hit that mark, Trump would retain his powers and likely embark on a full house cleaning, firing pence and replacing disloyal cabinet members.
Are there any gaps?
The 25th amendment allows Congress to designate its own body to evaluate the president, rather than relying on the cabinet – the men and women who work most closely with Trump – to decide how to proceed.
It states that "another body as Congress requires" could play that role, but Pence would still have to agree to any finding that the president is incapable of performing his duties.
This commission could, hypothetically, include anyone from presidential historians to psychiatrists charged with assessing the president's aptitude for office.
Another loophole is that it does not state that the cabinet has to agree, but that the "chief officials" of the departments are needed. This term is not defined in the constitution. In some departments, the legislation appears to designate not only the secretary but also the MPs and even the under-secretaries of state as "chief officers" so that many more people could be used to assess Trump's fitness.
But Trump's cabinet has a lot of "acting" cabinet officials – and it is unclear if that is why they could participate in removing him.
Could Trump Fire Pence If He Rebels?
Yes, in principle. If Trump smelled a hint of anger – if pence and a cabal of cabinet members, or pence and a jury assembled by Congress seemed ready to judge him incapacitated – he could fire his vice president with the stroke of a pen to stop the process.
However, installing a more loyal vice president could be problematic as the 25th Amendment includes its own poison pill: both Houses of Congress must vote to approve a new vice president.
That means Trump would run against the same Congress that would vote on his eligibility for office, unless the process unfolded in the weeks leading up to a new Congress.
In theory, a democratically controlled Congress could make life dramatically more difficult for the president if he came to power in the middle of the constitutional crisis.
One scenario seems to surprise the President's historians, however: Firing pence before the trial begins, and then vacating the vice presidency would not provide Congress with a practical way forward. That would represent a constitutional crisis of its own.
Is there a precedent for this?
No. Only Section III, the voluntary surrender of powers of the President, was ever used, and very briefly.
In December 1978, President Jimmy Carter considered using Section III when considering surgery to remove hemorrhoids.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both voluntarily gave up their powers while under anesthesia.
Section IV was also never invoked, although it was alleged that Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff Donald Regan had advised his successor, Howard Baker, in 1987 that he should be willing to invoke it because Reagan was inattentive and inept.
The PBS documentary & # 39; American Experience & # 39; tells how Baker and his team watched Reagan closely for signs of incompetence when they first met and found that he was in perfect control of himself.